With the flat season now just a memory, racing fans have switched focus now that the national hunt horses have taken centre stage.
The first Grade One race of the jumping season, held at Down Royal on Saturday, saw Roi Du Mee cause an upset in the JNwine Champion Chase.
The outsider of the party at 12/1, Roi Du Mee set off in front under Bryan Cooper and made every post a winning one. Roi Du Mee came home 13 lengths ahead of joint favourite Sizing Europe, with the Willie Mullins runner Prince De Beauchene a further 10 lengths adrift in third.
Trained by Gordon Elliott, Roi Du Mee has a Grade Two success to his credit after landing the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse last season. However, he was beaten when falling behind Sizing Europe at Gowran Park in early October.
A great servant to the Gigginstown House and Gordon Elliott team, the eight-year-old has now won €400,000 in prize-money. After the race Elliott said the horse could be retired in the morning as he owes nothing to his connections.
This was a race where there were many questions to be answered. Chief among those was whether or not Sizing Europe was a genuine three mile horse and would the well fancied First Lieutenant finally conquer his aversion to going right handed. Both answers were inconclusive - the former didn’t jump with his usual fluency while First Lieutenant, who was expected to improve the proverbial ton from his seasonal debut at Punchestown, was in trouble too far out for it to be his true running.
Willie Mullins must have been delighted with the display of Prince De Beauchene. The 10-year-old has been lightly raced but showed enough to suggest that he is capable of making his presence felt in a decent chase this term.
Danny Mullins was having a great ride aboard Mount Benbulben when the eight-year-old made a bad blunder four out and they went their separate ways. Jumping has always been a problem for Mount Benbulben, but if he is not affected by the fall he is as good a chaser as there is around and will pay his way in the months ahead.
There was plenty of confidence behind the Willie Mullins runner Gitane Du Berlais in the opening juvenile but she was well scuttled when finishing third behind Guitar Pete and Gerdago.
An impressive winner on his hurdling bow at Listowel, Guitar Pete failed to reel in Lindenhurst at Gowran Park on his next outing. Connections were of the opinion that he was better than that form would suggest, an assessment which proved correct.
The son of Dark Angel was always near the head of affairs before leading at the second last flight and going right away to win unchallenged by seven lengths. Hughes told me that he was disappointed his charge failed to win at Gowran Park but that he shaped much better here.
The Winning Fair Hurdle at Fairyhouse next month is now firmly on the agenda, as well as Leopardstown at Christmas.
Danny Mullins was seen to distinct advantage when guiding Time To Work to a facile success in the Grade C 120-137 Handicap Hurdle over a two mile trip. A course and distance maiden hurdle winner, the Hurricane run gelding was easy to back at 14/1.
Mullins dropped him out in the early part of the race but had him right on the premises turning to face the judge. At this point Foildubh looked the one to beat but Time To Work was responding well to the urgings of his rider and swooped inside the final 100 yards to record a two length success.
Ruby Walsh did not leave the meeting empty-handed and had little more than a steering job aboard Twin Plan to land the two mile and six 81-111 handicap chase for the James Lambe stable.
A well supported 6/4 favourite, the beneficial mare almost made her exit at the second fence but recovered well to take over at the penultimate fence and draw right away to win unchallenged by 10 lengths from Kilcommon Pride.
A hugely consistent mare, Twin Plan is versatile in terms of trip and could revert to jumping fences for her next outing.
Gordon Elliott completed a three-timer when saddling Moonshine Lad to win the concluding bumper. Purchased for 95,000 Guineas after winning his maiden point-to-point the Milan gelding was given time to find his feet early on but improved smoothly to take over from the two furlong marker and run all the way to the line where he had four and a half lengths to spare over The Herds Garden.
This pair were 15 lengths clear of the third finisher Adamstown, so it is safe to assume that the runner-up will be shedding his maiden tag before very long.